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The 19 greatest starts in Cubs history, No. 10: Don Cardwell, May 15, 1960

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This game was significant for several reasons.

WIkimedia Commons

The 1959 Cubs weren’t a bad team. They finished 10 games under .500 — their best showing since 1952. They had two-time N.L. MVP Ernie Banks in the prime of his career. So they entered 1960 with some hope for improvement.

Clunk.

Charlie Grimm, who was 62 years old and hadn’t managed at all since 1956 and not with the Cubs since 1949, had taken over for Bob Scheffing, inexplicably let go after ‘59. The season did not start well, and with the Cubs 6-11, management executed the peculiar swap of Grimm for Lou Boudreau, who was then in the Cubs WGN radio booth.

There must have been some awful weather in Chicago in May 1960, because after a loss in Boudreau’s first game May 5, the team had five straight games postponed before losing again May 12. Typical of the time, that sent GM John Holland to the trading block to see what he could do to improve the team.

On May 13 Holland sent Tony Taylor and Cal Neeman to the Phillies for Ed Bouchee and Don Cardwell, a seemingly minor deal. Cardwell, just 24 at the time, had posted a 4.46 ERA and 1.292 WHIP in three-plus seasons in Philadelphia, though in his last start with the Phillies, May 6 against the Dodgers, he’d thrown six one-hit innings (albeit with six walks).

This is what is often called a foreshadowing.

Cardwell was slotted in to start the second game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals Sunday, May 15, two days after he arrived in Chicago. The Cubs had lost the first game 6-1.

Cardwell walked the second hitter he faced, Alex Grammas.

And then... the Cardinals got nothing. The Cubs fashioned a 4-0 lead in the middle innings, the big blow a two-run homer by Ernie Banks in the sixth off Lindy McDaniel. After the walk to Grammas, Cardwell had mowed down 23 straight Cardinals entering the ninth inning, striking out seven, in front of what would end up as the second-biggest Wrigley crowd of the year, 33,543.

Carl Sawatski sent George Altman to the wall with a line drive to right. George Crowe hit a fly ball to Richie Ashburn in center field for the second out.

That brought up Joe Cunningham [VIDEO].

There are a number of significant things here. First, this is very likely the oldest surviving video of a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Videotape was in its infancy in 1960 and very expensive. When used, it was often re-used. Someone at WGN-TV began running videotape in the eighth inning of this game when it was clear that Cardwell had a shot at a no-hitter, and once he did it, it was saved. It’s amazing to realize that this piece of video is now 60 years old.

Second, Jack Brickhouse notes that the catch made by Moose Moryn was “fabulous,” and of course Jack was prone to hyperbole, but given the circumstances it really was an outstanding catch of a sinking line drive to left field.

Lastly, as Brickhouse also notes, this was (and still is, as far as I know) the only time a pitcher had ever thrown a no-hitter in his first start with a team. Of course, Cardwell had already pitched more than three full seasons in the big leagues, but this gave Cubs fans hope that the trade had produced a terrific pitcher. Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley gave Cardwell a $2,000 bonus for the no-no, the equivalent of about $17,500 today.

Cardwell pitched in 1960 pretty much the way he had in Philadelphia, but in 1961 he had an excellent season for the Cubs: 15 wins (for a 64-win team), 3.82 ERA, 1.276 WHIP and 6.1 bWAR. The bWAR figure led all N.L. pitchers that year. Cardwell was just 25 — looked like he’d be around for a long time.

Well, you know the rest of the story, probably. Cardwell had a bad 1962 season and the Cubs gave up on him. They did get value out of trading him to the very Cardinals he had no-hit two seasons before, sending him and George Altman to St. Louis for Larry Jackson, Lindy McDaniel and Jimmie Schaffer. Cardwell never pitched for the Cards, though — a month later they sent him to the Pirates. Later he’d go on to be an effective reliever for the 1969 Mets, and you know what they did, no need to go further into that except to say that performance would have looked good on the North Side.

And for one magical day in 1960, Don Cardwell looked like a world-beater. It’s one of just three Cubs no-hitters in which the no-hit pitcher faced just one over the minimum.